The council yanked back its permission, granted in May, to allow a resident in Lakewood Estates to clear an alley behind his house to make it easier to roll his garbage cans to the street. Neighbors have complained bitterly that “clearing” meant removing trees and vegetation they valued as a buffer between houses. Also on the housing front, the council–apparently reacting to pressure from real estate interests–has once again carried over zoning amendments passed by the Planning Commission in April that would moderate the height of houses on lots 55 feet and under, keeping them in most cases to 1 and 1/2 stories. Elsewhere in the meeting the police chief was granted a $50,000 expenditure for undisclosed emergency equipment to protect officers in the wake of the Dallas and Baton Rouge police shootings. The equipment may include personal protection and weaponry, the chief said.
Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames (arriving mid-meeting), Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, and Alex Wyatt. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Absent: Council president Bruce Limbaugh and Barry Smith.
Staff present: Mike Kendrick, city attorney, Melody Salter, finance director and city clerk, J.J. Bischoff, mayor’s chief of staff, Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 17
Dropped the following items from committee agendas: In one vote the council dropped 1) A proposal to conduct a Central Business Revitalization and Zoning Study; and 2) A bid opening for the multi-million-dollar paving project, because the opening has already been set for Sept. 19.
OLD BUSINESS AGENDA
Voted to carry over once again changes in the zoning regulations affecting housing height and other changes: The changes that were once again carried over for discussion involve a simplification of the method used to determine allowed height in new housing (by measuring from the front door threshold to the highest roof point instead of taking an average from all four sides) together with setting a 29-foot limit for houses on lots 55 feet and narrower. The simplified method/limit would make it difficulty to build a full two-stories on the narrower lots, which are mostly in Edgewood, and at the same time address growing complaints from residents about oversized houses being built on small lots. Also to be changed, but not attracting as much attention, is setting a new minimum area for lots 55-feet and under (800 square feet was proposed at the July 29 forum; the council president had suggested increasing it to 1,200 square feet), and dropping the requirement to “step-in” second stories an additional 10 feet from the first floor for fire safety reasons, unless the second floor was sprinkled. The zoning amendments also consolidated three recognized city lot widths into two, “55 feet and under” and “over 55 feet.”
The proposed changes had already been heard and approved by the Planning Commission in April but drew complaints from builders during a council hearing June 27 before the changes were set to be ratified. The council president then set a July 19 forum for residents and builders to discuss the changes with the zoning staff, where it was decided to raise the height restriction from 25 feet on lots 55 feet and under to 29 feet. Although all present seemed satisfied, the council on Monday voted again to send the matter back to the council’s Planning and Development Committee for more discussion.
Carried over a Right-of-Way Easement request on 18th Street: The request from a business at 2908 18th Street South is to create a level area in the sidewalk for handicap entry to the business. Mr. Wright said the request needed more discussion in committee.
Allowed a second illuminated sign for a new apartment complex on U.S. 31: The request granted was to allow a second sign, or one more than allowed by the ordinance, to place one at each end of a circular drive at 3450 Manor Drive. Each sign will be six feet.
Approved a fence: A fence variance was granted on a corner lot at 1717 Shades Park Drive, pending staff approval that the fence won’t block traffic visibility at the corner.
Approved two stop signs on Saulter and Lakewood Drive intersection: The signs cost $5,400 apiece.
Approved a change to employees’ retirement plan to allow borrowing: The council approved making a change to the 457 plan with Nationwide.
Set an Aug. 15, 2016, bid opening to purchase license plate readers for police department. No further details.
Approved an amendment to increase the current parks budget to buy more pool chemicals: The price increase was not discussed.
Approved spending $38,160 for a contractor’s second phase investigation to identify the source of bad smells from the Barber/Mayfield dairy plants and/or the Buffalo Rock plants in West Homewood: The first phase, which identified some compounds but no source, cost in the $20,000 range. Council members made clear in a prior committee meeting that the investigative process couldn’t go on indefinitely without results. Following tonight’s meeting the city attorney announced that the consultants had asked for help (?) compiling public state and federal environmental air quality records as well as access to several other facilities, not the dairy or Buffalo Rock, outside of the immediate area.
Approved a copier contract renewal: The matter was held over at the last meeting when the city IT director asked the name on the lease be changed from Konica Minolta to Ameritech, an affiliate. The 3-year renewal was passed tonight with the original name on the agenda.
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – To consider 1) Transferring $5,000 from “contracts” to “tuition/schools” for the police department; 2) Purchasing a sponsorship for the Birmingham Bowl; 3) Offering an incentive package to attract businesses to Wildwood South; and 4) Accepting of a $353,052 FEMA SAFER grant award to fund three firefighter positions for two years.
To Planning and Development – To consider 1) The rezoning request from commercial to residential from developer Progressive Columbiana LLC (Eric Rogers) to add four more condominiums at 822 Columbiana Road, and set a public hearing before the full council; and 2) Restricting traffic on Rumson Road to one-way.
To Public Safety – To consider 1) Supporting a state ABC board On- or Off-Premises retail beer and table wine license for Mi Pueblo grocery store on Green Springs Highway; 2) Addressing traffic concerns on Hambaugh Avenue; and 3) Addressing continued parking problems on Broadway.
To Special Issues – To consider 1) Sign ordinance variances at 103 Citation Court and 1831 28th Avenue South, Suite 160; 2) A request for a fence variance at 612 Hambaugh Avenue; 3) Creating a modified access path to the rear of Publix; and 4) Rethinking the adoption of the Home Energy section of the International Building Code.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Set an Aug. 22, 2016, public hearing for rezoning Columbiana Road property for more condominiums: The additional four condominiums would face six condos already planned and approved at 818 Columbiana Road, as discussed in the Planning Commission. See committee referral item, above.
Settled an ongoing lawsuit with Alabama Furniture Market:
Homewood was one of a list of virtually all in the metro Birmingham area named by Alabama Furniture Market to recover excess sales tax it paid those cities for furniture delivered there rather than the tax charged at the point of sale. For Homewood, the settled amount was $998.96, which was agreed to be paid rather than continue litigating. Since the suit was filed the Alabama legislature has passed a law supporting the cities’ claims to collect tax they levied where furniture was delivered, not sold.
Approved up to $50,000 “emergency” capital purchases for the police department: Given the assaults on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the police chief asked for the funds to equip the city’s 77 officers with “additional protections,” the details of which he would not disclose except to say defensive equipment and some weapons.
Approved administrative changes to an ordinance for repairing streets after utility work: An ordinance that gave the city more power over the standard of repair to city streets following utility excavation named the Public Services Director, Berkley Squires, as the entity to handle the exchange of funds, such as security bonds. This amendment names the city clerk, who is also the Finance Director, instead.
Approved an increase of in funding for downtown directional signs: The sign expenditure was raised $2,500 to $6,000 because of a change in vendor.
Paid the bills: The council approved invoices to be paid for the period July 11-July 24, 2016.
Approved in five separate votes resolutions providing for a runoff election if needed and naming as elected four candidates with no opposition: Resolutions acknowledging the uncontested elections of city council president and Ward 2/Place 1, and Ward 3/Place 1 council seats. Bruce Limbaugh is hereby the re-elected council president and in the wards are Patrick McClusky a re-elected Ward 3 councilman, Mike Higginbotham a newly elected Ward 2 councilman, and Alex Wyatt, who was appointed mid-term, a newly elected councilman in Ward 4/Place 2. The elections are effective the first Monday in November.
Agreed to terminate a prior approval for a resident to work in an unimproved city right of way: Mr. Jones asked for guidance from the council after hearing multiple complaints that a resident allowed to clear a “paper” alley behind his house was taking down a buffer of bamboo and was preparing to take down trees as well. The resident at 1627 Sunset Drive in May had been granted permission to work in the right-of-way after he made a case for clearing a path to roll his garbage cans to Lakewood Drive, rather than down his steep driveway to Sunset. Mr. Jones said he remembered the resident claiming there was no opposition from neighbors, but clearly neighbors either didn’t know or didn’t understand the extent of the work planned. A neighbor at #9 Ridgewood had been complaining daily since the vegetation started to be cleared.
In discussion, Ms. McGrath said the city’s permission could be terminated with 10 days’ notice, requiring the property be returned to its original state, but she also pointed out that residents don’t necessarily have a right to a buffer between houses. It was decided the best course was to terminate the permission to set the clock running on the 10 days, and to contact the resident as soon as possible to discuss the issue. The resident isn’t obligated to stop clearing the area immediately, but might be persuaded to, given the requirements of the council’s vote tonight.